It was 10 years ago — on May 24, 2013, that 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez was tortured and beaten to death at the hands of his mother Pearl and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre.
This week, during the 2023 graduation ceremony at Palmdale High School, Gabriel was acknowledged by the school’s principal and the school community, who presented Gabriel’s cousins — Sylmar resident Emily Carranza and Olivia Rubio — with an honorable mention.
It was an emotional day for them.
“If he had lived, he would have completed high school today,” said Rubio, “and this could have been his 2023 graduating class.”
The school set up a chair for him that held his name with a single rose on its seat. “They called us up to accept his certificate of honorable mention,” said Carranza.
“We reserved a space for him,” said Maria Rangel Hernandez, a head counselor at Palmdale High School. “We recognized him as being an honorary grad. At the front of the program, we acknowledged that this would have been his graduating year, which also read — ‘He will be in our hearts,’” she said.
“This is Palmdale and everyone knew who he was and it made our senior awards more special to have his family present,” said Rangel Hernandez.
“Now he will forever be a Falcon,” said Rubio.
“We wished he could have experienced the high school life and actually got to walk across the stage. But we know his spirit was with us,” said Carranza, who said it was bittersweet.
“When we arrived, we were greeted by a butterfly, which often happens at an event for Gabriel.”
This week, Carranza and Rubio also attended a scholarship ceremony in the City of San Fernando that presented two high school graduating seniors with scholarships in honor of Gabriel.
“We know all the things Gabriel loved as a child and we don’t know what he would have become or as an 18 year old, which he would have been, we don’t know what he would have wanted to study,” said Carranza. “But, we want to encourage those who receive scholarships in his name.”
When the scholarship was first set up, applicants were asked to read about Gabriel’s story and consider how in their chosen field of study, their later work could benefit others.
At the core of their efforts has been to bring awareness to child abuse and to help to support other families and bring needed reforms.
“It just should have never happened,” said Rubio, who, with Carranza, believes these acknowledgments can help to bring change to those who are committed to work to protect children.
“We won’t ever forget him,” they both maintain.